Livewire Geraldton vet remembered

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Geoff VivianGeraldton Guardian
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In 1956 Corrie became the second Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery to graduate from Queensland Veterinary School.
Camera IconIn 1956 Corrie became the second Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery to graduate from Queensland Veterinary School. Credit: Supplied

Corrie Speed

March 4, 1934 — May 6, 2021

A trailblazer for her gender and generation, Corrie Speed — Geraldton’s first veterinarian in private practice — died earlier this month after a short illness at the age of 87.

In 1957, the newly qualified Corinne Williams, later Corrie Speed, started Sanford Veterinary Clinic.

Her daughter-in-law Odette Williams said Corrie was only the second female graduate from Queensland Veterinary School.

“She was a Brisbane girl and the only girl in her graduation class of 1956,” Odette said.

She was a powerhouse of a little woman, a high-achieving lady, particularly for her generation.

“She married a chap in her year who was West Australian and they came back to Western Australia.”

Her husband, the late Alex Williams, came to Geraldton to work for the Department of Agriculture, where he stayed for the rest of his working life, while Corrie started her own practice almost by accident.

In 1956 Corrie was the only woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from Queensland Veterinary School.
Camera IconIn 1956 Corrie was the only woman to graduate with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery from Queensland Veterinary School. Credit: Supplied

“People realised she was a vet and they started knocking on her door in George Road saying ‘there is something wrong with my cat’,” Odette said.

“Corrie’s vet practice grew, so she bought the building next to some lawyers in Sanford Street.

“She had some wonderful James Herriot-type stories.”

On one occasion Corrie spirited a calf with a suspected broken shoulder to hospital for an X-ray, because her machine was too small to be of any use.

On another occasion, she badly needed snake anti-venom and asked the hospital for help.

“The matron wasn’t allowed to, but she said ‘meet me at the perimeter after nine’ and she popped her hand through the fence and said ‘oops I dropped it’,” Odette said.

Corrie with her son Dr Richard Williams outside the original Sanford Veterinary Clinic building. Richard bought into the practice some years after Corrie sold it.
Camera IconCorrie with her son Dr Richard Williams outside the original Sanford Veterinary Clinic building. Richard bought into the practice some years after Corrie sold it. Credit: Midwest Times

“The snake anti-venom was required urgently and she either couldn’t afford it or it took a couple of days to come up on the train.”

Odette said Corrie often took her three children out on calls.

“One night she was at the drive-in with her children and she had a mare waiting to foal,” Odette said.

Corrie's children Richard, Rosie and David and their George Road neighbours Felicity and Rachael James; and Cecilia McGurk outside what was the new Sanford Veterinary Clinic in the mid 1960s.
Camera IconCorrie's children Richard, Rosie and David and their George Road neighbours Felicity and Rachael James; and Cecilia McGurk outside what was the new Sanford Veterinary Clinic in the mid 1960s. Credit: Supplied

“They saw a shooting star passing over the screen and said ‘that would be our foal’ so they left the drive-in and there was a new foal waiting for them.”

Corrie ran the practice for 20 years, then becoming an abattoir vet for a further 15 years, working in various parts of WA and the Northern Territory before retiring to Walkaway in 1989.

“She built a house and settled down, her three children lived and farmed out here, and she had 10 grandchildren,” Odette said.

“She was a busy woman — they used to call her the Lady Mayoress.”

Corrie’s causes included the Walkaway Memorial Hall, for which she organised numerous fundraisers and grants, and children’s Halloween nights.

“She was instrumental in getting the Geraldton Universities Centre up and running,” Odette said.

“She built a lot of rock walls on our property — when asked ‘What do you want for your 70th birthday grandma?’ she said ‘I need a new cement mixer’.

She was a good drinker, great sense of humour — for donkeys’ years she drank Swan Gold, then in later years switched to champagne.

Her funeral will be held tomorrow at the Holy Cross Anglican Cathedral.

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